Rangers avert a shutout but not a loss

Rangers avert shutout but not loss

BOSTON -- Manager Ron Washington has a simple request.

He wants a starting pitcher who can hold the opposition to four or five runs until his offense can get cranked up.

The Rangers are certainly lowering their expectations, but that's the way their season is going.

"That's not asking too much," Washington said after an 8-4 loss to the Red Sox on Wednesday night at Fenway Park. "But you take a young pitching staff and put it up against the Boston Red Sox, and they are a team that knows how to make you work and knows how to take advantage of mistakes. That's what's happening right now."

It happened again on Wednesday, with rookie right-hander Luis Mendoza, and this time there was no dramatic comeback. Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester had held the Rangers down too long after being handed a 6-0 lead after three innings and an 8-0 lead after five.

Lester took a four-hit shutout into the eighth before the Rangers scored, but the Red Sox held on for their second straight victory in the series. Texas has now lost six of its seven games and has dropped to one game over .500 on the season and nine games behind Boston in the American League Wild Card race.

Ian Kinsler broke up the shutout with a one-out home run off Lester, and Milton Bradley hit a three-shot off reliever Mike Timlin for his 20th home run of the season. But the Rangers have still lost six straight to the Red Sox at Fenway Park this year and are 12-38 here since the start of the 1998 season.

The loss came one night after Texas had to endure a 19-17 loss after overcoming Boston's 10-run lead. The Rangers seemed to be suffering a hangover from that one, but Washington disagreed.

"I didn't see any hangover," he said. "I saw Lester, and he was the hangover. He pitched very well and kept us off-balance. It might have been different if we could have held them down to four or five runs."

That's an admirable goal. The Rangers are 44-18 this year when they hold their opponents to five runs or fewer. They are 17-42 in the 59 games in which they have given up more than five runs.

The Red Sox, whom the Rangers are chasing for the Wild Card, are 6-28 when they give up more than five runs, and they've given up that many in 25 fewer games than the Rangers. The Angels' pitching staff has allowed more than five runs in just 30 games and are 6-24.

"Mendy just didn't have it," Washington said. "I was hoping he could keep us in the ballgame, but when you spot those guys those kind of runs ... Last night, we were able to make it up, but tonight you can't keep trying to make that up. It was just one of those nights."

Mendoza retired the side in order in the first but gave up a double to Kevin Youkilis and a single to Jason Bay in the second. With Jed Lowrie at the plate, Bay broke for second on a steal, and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia's throw went into center field. Youkilis walked home, and Bay ended up at third. Bay scored on Sean Casey's groundout to second base.

The Red Sox made it 6-0 in the third inning on a pair of doubles by Youkilis and Bay.

"In the second inning, I was falling behind again, and they were sitting on my sinker," Mendoza said. "My curveball and changeup were good. I was just missing my spots with my command."

Mendoza beat the Blue Jays during the last homestand but is 1-3 with a 10.41 ERA in his last five starts. The Rangers have to take one pitcher out of the rotation when Kevin Millwood returns on Friday, and Mendoza has turned himself into a candidate to be dropped.

"I'm frustrated right now," he said. "I don't know what to say. I'm disappointed right now."

The one member of the staff who pitched well was Dustin Nippert, the Rangers' always-ready long man. Nippert pitched four scoreless innings after Mendoza was done and now has a 2.76 ERA in his last four games and a 4.35 ERA in his last eight. He has not been a candidate for the rotation, but Washington admits that it is "something to think about."

Anybody who can hold an opponent to five runs or fewer has to be considered.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.